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Recycling is not rocket science. It’s people science.


I love to hike. I often go to Rock Creek Park in the District or the Northwest Branch Trail in Silver Spring and enjoy an hour or two on the trails. In the past, I’ve always seen some litter, usually water bottles and other odds and ends. Since the pandemic began I’ve seen a surge in those bottles along with masks and gloves used to protect from the virus. Littering may be bad behavior and illegal in the parks, but that doesn’t seem to prevent it from happening.

I thought about that when I read the latest news story about another Congressional hearing on recycling. How to cure recycling is a hot topic on the Hill these days. We are told at these hearings that recycling is “broken”.  However, if we just adopt this policy or that policy or maybe this whole long list of policies, everything will be fine. After all, recycling isn’t rocket science. A tweak here, a new policy there, and the patient is cured.

They are right, recycling isn’t rocket science. Running a successful recycling program lacks the staggering complexity required to send humans to the moon and bring them home. By contrast, collecting recyclables is child’s play. It requires a truck and a crew and relatively simple technology.

Processing recyclables is definitely more complicated, but it isn’t rocket science either. Over the last decade we have seen tremendous strides in technological breakthroughs such as optical sorting, robotics and artificial intelligence. They are improving our ability to separate and sell what’s in our bins. Undoubtedly other breakthroughs are out there waiting to be discovered.   

The real problem is that recycling is people science, not rocket science. Engineering people is always harder than engineering rockets. It involves the messy business of figuring out how to get 330 million Americans to recycle and to do it right.

We have some experience when it comes to behavior change and our trash. In the late 1800’s, cities across the country successfully launched garbage collection programs. They taught people to stop throwing their trash into the street or their back yard. Instead, it should be placed in garbage cans and put on the street on collection day. Americans quickly picked up this new social norm.

Recycling has proven to be a harder social norm to create. Separating materials from trash is harder than putting it all in one bag. Yes, most people say they want to recycle but our habits betray us. Maybe we are tired of all the behavior changes we are supposed to make in terms of waste and recycling. We are told to put the right materials in the right bins, to shop and cook smart to avoid food waste, to put the food waste we create in a separate bin, not to use straws, to buy less stuff, to avoid single-use plastics at all costs, to use reusable bags (oops, that one, unfortunately, is on hold in some places). Are we asking too much of people?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t enact new policies and set new goals. But let’s be smart about it this time. Let’s stop assuming that just because Congress or your state or city pass a new recycling law our behavior will automatically change.

Recycling will not grow until we create a social norm in which it is a natural and normal part of our behavior. That should be our most important goal. Yet Congress and state legislators seem to be curiously indifferent to the messiness of human behavior and far more interested in the theory of policy. Until we take human behavior seriously, all these new policies are doomed to failure.

As for me, the next time I go for a hike I might try “plogging. Every now and then, I will clean up after my fellow hikers. I know better than to expect them to be perfect.

Waste Management Q2 – Strong Results with Robust Volumes and Earnings – Despite $400 Million COVID Hit


Waste Management, Inc. (WM) announced solid financial results for Q2 2020 – despite a negative revenue impact of $400 million due to COVID-19-related business interruptions.

The company had a stronger than expected performance and credited its resiliency and focus on capital and cost management. WM noted robust improvements in volumes and earnings each month with June standing out as the strongest month.

Revenues for the second quarter of 2020 were $3.56 billion compared with $3.95 billion for the same 2019 period. Net income for the quarter was $307 million, or $0.72 per diluted share, compared with $381 million, or $0.89 per diluted share, for the second quarter of 2019. On an adjusted basis, net income was $372 million, or $0.88 per diluted share, in the second quarter of 2020, compared with $470 million, or $1.11 per diluted share, in the second quarter of 2019.

“I am proud of how our employees have continued to provide dependable, essential services to our customers and communities during the pandemic,” said Jim Fish, Waste Management’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “While keeping health and safety as the top priority, the team adapted through difficult circumstances, finding ways to improve efficiency across the collection and disposal business and reduce discretionary spending.

The Waste Management and Advanced Disposal revised deal, along with the planned regulatory divestures to GFL Environmental, are still on track to close by the end of the third quarter of 2020.

Highlights for Q2 2020

  • Revenue declined $331 million in its collection and disposal business, driven by $386 million in volume declines partially offset by $55 million of yield growth.
  • Collection and disposal yield was 1.6% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to 2.7% in the second quarter of 2019.
  • WM’s pricing results were muted relative to historical results and its full year expectations due to proactive customer-centric steps to temporarily suspend price increases and certain fees for customers impacted by COVID-19. WM remains committed to its pricing programs.
  • Total company volumes declined 10.3%. Breaks are:
    • Volumes declined almost 11% in the commercial line of business.
    • 16% in industrial, and 18% in landfill, primarily related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Adjusting for natural disaster volumes that occurred in the second quarter of 2019, landfill volumes declined 13% in Q2.
  • WM estimates that business interruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative revenue impact of approximately $400 million.
  • Total Company operating EBITDA was $941 million, or 26.4% as a percentage of revenue for the second quarter of 2020. On an adjusted basis, total Company operating EBITDA was $1.03 billion, or 28.8% as a percentage of revenue for the second quarter of 2020 versus adjusted operating EBITDA of $1.13 billion and 28.7% as a percentage of revenue in 2019.
  • The Company grew operating EBITDA in its recycling business by almost $8 million when compared to the second quarter of 2019 by reducing costs and continuing to implement its fee-for-service model.

What’s ahead?

WM has given more guidance on what lies ahead, including:

  • Total revenue for 2020 is expected to decline between 4% and 5% when compared to 2019.
  • Given the strong performance in the second quarter of 2020 and improved volume outlook, WM now expects adjusted operating EBITDA margin to be in the range of 28% - 28.5%, or flat to down 50 basis points on a year-over-year basis.

WM’s management team stressed on its earnings call that it remains focused on managing costs to mitigate the impact COVID-19. Steps include swift labor and route optimization in response to reduced volumes, reducing overtime hours, limiting hiring, eliminating non-essential expenses and costs, and reducing incentive compensation accruals.

WM also stressed its commitment to continuing to digitize its customer service and delivering long-term value to customers and shareholders. Customer churn was 6.9%, which is the company’s lowest on record and loyalty was up 82%. Fish noted early wins this year and wants this trend to continue.

With commercial business showing signs of recovery, MSW volume improved, and overall economic improvements on the horizon, the management team from WM was cautiously optimistic about the remainder of 2020.

Fish ended on a high note, “Despite the challenging backdrop, we’re confident in our ability to continue to meet our commitments to our customers and deliver solid 2020 results. During these unprecedented times, our business model has once again proven its resilience, and we remain focused on using this opportunity and our technology investments to create a differentiated customer experience that puts our customers at the center of everything we do and to increase workplace flexibility for our people.”

Sustainability Talks

Innovative Plant-based Packaging with a Small “Footprint”


Launched in 2013, Footprint is a plant-based packaging company created by former Intel engineers Troy Swope and Yoke Chung. They sought to “tackle food packaging’s environmental and human-health problems” and wean corporations off single-use plastics.  

The inspiration for the business started at Intel, when Swope realized the packaging of its semiconductors wasn’t optimal. “One of the world’s most advanced tech companies was shipping half-million-dollar bundles of microchips in plastic containers that leached volatile organic compounds.” He put together a team that designed new packaging, which saved Intel $350 million over a four-year period.

At Footprint, Swope and Chung seek to transform the grocery industry. Plastic has become so prevalent in food packaging that many companies fit it hard to switch to something more eco-friendly. Footprint uses materials like virgin newsprint and double-­lined kraft, alongside “patented food-safe chemistry” to produce nontoxic, compostable meat trays, shelf-stable cups, and oil-proof microwavable bowls that can stay frozen for 180 days.

Its successes are many and include helping ConAgra move its Healthy Choice frozen line from plastic containers to decomposable bowls; supplying paper straws to Whole Foods and Chick-fil-A; and creating nontoxic packaging to chains like Sweetgreen. Currently, Footprint is devising alternative packaging for brands including Philips, Bose, and Target.

The company has 1,200 employees and factories in the U.S. and Mexico.

View the original article here.

Whitetail Disposal’s Schmidt Sees Opportunity in Waste


Mike Schmidt founded his company, Whitetail Disposal, Inc., with a pick-up truck in 2006. Today, as president and chief executive officer, he oversees more than 200 employees, while servicing more than 100,000 residential customers and almost 2,500 commercial and industrial customers each week. Over the last five years, Whitetail Disposal has had an annual growth rate of more than 50 percent.

Whitetail Disposal serves counties surrounding Philadelphia, which include Bucks County, Montgomery County, and parts of Lehigh County, Berks County, and Chester County.

Schmidt, who was recently named as a Waste360 40 Under 40 award winner, spoke with Waste360 about his experience as an entrepreneur in the waste industry.

Waste360: What services does Whitetail Disposal provide, and what type of clients do you serve?

Mike Schmidt: We have four segments in our business: residential, commercial, industrial, and single hauler, which would be municipal contracts. We're a straight hauler, so we just pick up the trash. We don't have any transfer facilities or landfills.

Waste360: What do you think are some of the strengths of your company?

Mike Schmidt: We pick up the trash very, very well, and that all started from the beginning. Our service is like none other in the business, I feel.

We track everything, as far as misses and how many calls come into the office. As an example, in January, our total incoming calls were 18,293 incoming calls. Of the actual calls that we answered in our office here was 16,055 calls. That’s actual phone calls that we picked up, we answered, and we spoke to that customer.

Then, we had 1,707 voicemails, of which we called them back before the day was over. Then, if something happens to come in after we leave the office after 5:00 PM, those calls get returned in the morning. Our rule is by lunchtime, with most of those phone calls being returned by 10:00 AM or 10:30 AM. We try and communicate with our customers.

Waste360: What is your corporate philosophy?

Mike Schmidt: I started this back when I was 21. So it was very, very much family from the beginning. I see all my employees as family. They're all my extended family—210 extended families—that work here.

I see each and every one of them every single day. Everyone that works here at Whitetail, I consider family, whether you just come in today and start working, or whether you've been with me for 10 years. That is really the backbone for us to be able to be successful and run a successful company.

Everything we do, our decisions are based directly in our local community, for the local community, to benefit the local community. We also bring stability to our market as far as the pricing and the service. That's where the customers are starting to see the difference.

Waste360: What brought you to the waste industry?

Mike Schmidt: I grew up on a dairy farm. Nothing necessarily brought me to the industry other than that there are a lot of similarities between the two. But, I wanted to do something that was consistent. Farming wasn't always consistent because you have to rely on the rain, the sun—everything is weather-related. But, I just wanted something more consistent.

Waste360: Did you start by working with another company? Or that's when you started your company?

Mike Schmidt: No, that's when I started my company, when I was 21. I had no previous experience in the trash industry. I didn't work for anybody else. I just took what I learned from my dad over the years as far as how to run a business.

I started my own little farming business when I was 14. I was out working with my dad on the tractors when I was three, four-years-old. Soon as I could walk, I was out in the fields and in the barn. Just with being around my dad growing up, if something broke when you're out there in the field baling hay, you couldn't call someone to fix it. You had to fix it yourself. You had to figure it out. A lot of that transfers over to the trash business.

I kept the truck at [my parents’] farm for many years. One thing led to another: my brother came on board and then my other brother. I have three brothers in it with me now. My mom still does all of our billing. We're still very much family-run—going back to the idea that all my employees are family.

Each of them plays a very important, vital role in Whitetail. If someone doesn't show up, even though we have 200 employees, you do notice it. And, I'm still on the front lines every single day. I'm up at 4:00 AM, and the first one there, and the last one to leave.

Waste360: So, you're still doing pickups?

Mike Schmidt: I do some of that. Absolutely. That's just to keep a feel for it. I'm in the office. I'm out in the field. I'm out in the shop.

Waste360: Who were some of your early clients?

Mike Schmidt: I didn't go to anybody that I knew at first, as odd as that sounds. I went out and I just started knocking on doors in the neighborhood and the businesses. Just going in and telling them "I want your business."

I still have my first customer to this day. And actually almost all my first customers I still have, unless they went out of business. I went out, knocked on every door myself. I still knock on doors. If I have some free time I go out and knock on doors.

Waste360: Why do you think this is an industry that young people should consider for a career?

Mike Schmidt: A great example is what's going on in the world today as far as with COVID-19. It's a stable business to be in. It'll be able to provide for your family, if that person were to ever have a family. It's very interesting. It's very fun. It's a lot of hard work, but it's very rewarding. You get to work with a lot of people, different people every single day. And no matter what's happening in the world, you'll always have a job.

My schedule has never been the same from one day to the next, over the last 12 years. Millennials love change; they don't like doing the same thing. So, probably that is the biggest thing. It’s always going to be something different.

Need to Know

Personal Protective Equipment is the New Waste


There’s a new type of waste amid the COVID-19 pandemic. From face masks to wipes and gloves, personal protective equipment (PPE) is the new waste stream finding its way onto sidewalks, ocean and beaches. And it poses a great risk to the environment.

“This pandemic is causing the face of litter to change,” said Ms. Lowman, chief executive of Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit group that organizes cleanups. “We’re seeing a real shift in what is in the litter stream.”

Many local governments have instituted fines to combat PPE littering.

The bottom line – just throw away your PPE properly.

Read the original story here.

Need to Know

NWRA Urges President Trump to Suspend FET Through 2021


Arlington, VA – In a letter to President Donald Trump, the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) joined other state and national trade associations, as well as private companies, urging the president to suspend the 12 percent Federal Excise Tax (FET) on new heavy-duty trucks and trailers until the end of 2021. Truck sales in the United States are expected to decline by 50 percent in 2020. Suspending the FET could save or bring back almost 8 million jobs.

“The FET adds $30,000 to the cost of a new truck. We believe suspending the FET will spur the sales of new, cleaner trucks that would help rebuild our economy. These trucks have the latest safety technologies that would help make our roads safer,” said NWRA President and CEO Darrell Smith.

The average age of a truck on the road is 10 years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has become more dependent on the trucking fleet for the delivery of goods and supplies as well as the collection and disposal of waste and recycling.


The National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) represents the private sector waste and recycling services industry. Association members conduct business in all 50 states and include companies that manage waste, recycling and medical waste, equipment manufacturers and distributors, and a variety of other service providers. For more information about NWRA, please visit www.wasterecycling.org.

Brandon Wright
National Waste and Recycling Association
[email protected]





Need to Know

The Recycling Partnership Announces Newly Elected Board of Directors


Falls Church, Va. (July 29, 2020)  – The newly elected Board of Directors for The Recycling Partnership brings sustainability and industry knowledge and reach, paired with business expertise to advance the nation toward a circular economy. The Recycling Partnership is a national nonprofit that guides corporate funding to improve recycling results in communities across America. The Partnership is the only organization in the country that engages the full recycling supply chain– from the corporations that manufacture products and packaging, to local governments charged with recycling, to industry end markets, haulers, material recovery facilities, and converters.

Fifteen industry leaders were elected to serve on The Recycling Partnership’s Board of Directors. The newly elected Directors include: Steve Alexander (CEO and President, Association of Plastic Recyclers), Viviana Alvarez (Head of Sustainability, Unilever North America), Derric Brown (Vice President of Sustainability, Carton Council), Maria Burquest (Corporate Communications-Citizenship, Procter & Gamble), Kim Carswell (Director of Packaging, Target), Keith Christman (Acting Vice President Plastics Division, American Chemistry Council), David Clark (Vice President of Sustainability, Amcor), Nicole Collier (Director of Government Affairs, Nestle), Megan Daum (Vice President of Sustainability, American Beverage Association), Scott DeFife(President, Glass Packaging Institute), Aimee Gregg (Vice President & General Manager, Recycling and Recovered Fiber, International Paper), Brian Hawkinson (Executive Director of Recovered Fiber, American Forest & Paper Association), Bruce Karas(Vice President of Environment & Safety, Coca-Cola North America), Terese Kietzer (Senior Manager of Sustainability, Amazon), and Monique Oxender (Chief Sustainability Officer, Keurig Dr Pepper).

At the first Board of Directors meeting, an Executive Committee was also appointed:

  • Chairwoman – Kim Carswell (Target)
  • Vice Chairman – David Clark (Amcor)
  • Vice Chairwoman – Monique Oxender (Keurig Dr Pepper)
  • Treasurer – Steve Alexander (Association of Plastic Recyclers)
  • Secretary – Derric Brown (Carton Council)

“I am delighted and honored to serve as Board chair and work with this new team,” stated Kim Carswell Chairwoman of the Board of The Recycling Partnership and Director of Packaging for Target. “The Recycling Partnership is a national leader in driving positive system change on recycling and bringing a circular economy to life in the U.S. This new Board has the talent, expertise, and dedication to drive lasting change.”

Since 2014, the nonprofit change agent estimates it diverted 230 million pounds of new recyclables from landfills, saved 465 million gallons of water, avoided more than 250,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases, and driven significant reductions in targeted recycling contamination rates.

“We’re grateful for the service of our Board in helping The Recycling Partnership to advance the U.S. circular economy,” says Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership. “As a mission-driven nonprofit, our Board joins us in ensuring that the production of goods and the protection of the planet are not at odds.  It’s a big task, one that we take seriously, and it can only be delivered by engaging companies, communities, and elected officials toward that common goal.”



About The Recycling Partnership
The Recycling Partnership is a national nonprofit organization that leverages corporate partner funding to transform recycling for good in states, cities, and communities nationwide. As the only organization in the country that engages the full recycling supply chain from the corporations that manufacture products and packaging to local governments charged with recycling to industry end markets, haulers, material recovery facilities, and converters. Since 2014, the nonprofit change agent diverted 230 million pounds of new recyclables from landfills, saved 465 million gallons of water, avoided more than 250,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases, and drove significant reductions in targeted contamination rates. Learn more at www.recyclingpartnership.org

Need to Know

Garbage Gets a Second Life in Graphene


Graphene is a one-atom-thick crystalline form of carbon arranged in a two-dimensional honeycomb lattice. With an industry projected to be at least $350 million by 2028, this material is expected to revolutionize the world. It’s light, strong and elastic, but it’s expensive and challenging to construct.

Researchers at Rice University have created a method to make graphene from household garbage like water bottles, worn out rubber tire and food waste. Through a hot flash of electricity on any item containing carbon, the carbon atoms are rewired and graphene is produced. 

The potential for graphine to reduce our waste and make it into something purposeful is an exciting proposition.

Read the original story here.

Need to Know

TerraCycle Partners with The Venetian to Recycle Surgical Face Masks


Surgical face masks used by guests and staff at The Venetian in Las Vegas will be recycled in a newly launched program.

Working with TerraCycle, The Las Vegas Sans. Corp. resort said it’s the first Las Vegas-based property to develop such a program.

The masks recycled from The Venetian will be collected, separated, shredded, and turned into a raw material that can be used to make products such as composite lumber for shipping pallet, railroad ties and composite decking.

The Venetian has been separating masks from other waste since its reopening on June 4 as part of its Sands ECO360 initiative.

Surgical masks are not currently recycled through mainstream or curbside recycling programs because the recycling process is so complex. The masks are composed of various materials that need to be sorted and separated before recycling — including a metal nose strip, which requires a magnet to separate it.

Read the original article fromThe Reivew-Journal.

BEYOND PLASTIC Awards Showcase Eco-designed Solutions


As Plastic-free July winds down its final days, we want to show you some the award-winning innovations of BEYOND PLASTIC. Many of these creative solutions are from the UK and Brazil and can help to inspire us here.

BEYONDPLASTIC.NET, a global initiative dedicated to reducing the use of single-use plastics, has announced the winners of its 2020 BEYOND PLASTIC Awards.

The initiative was launched in 2019, by Ulrich Krzyminski, as a politically and commercially independent online platform for environmentalists, packaging designers, engineers, and companies to present and exchange ideas, concepts and products of eco-responsible solutions replacing plastic packages.

The Awards honor “the innovation and creativity in sustainable design” in four categories:

  1. Most Practical Impact to Reduce the Use of Plastics
  2. Most Innovative Approach
  3. Most Beautiful Solution
  4. Best Initiative in Education/Journalism/Campaigning.

Gold, silver, and bronze winners are recognized in each category.

Below we highlight the winners from two categories.

Most Practical Impact to Reduce the Use of Plastics Winners

Gold award

“Unpack Less, Peel More,” by Elena Amato & Caroline Pagnan, Brazil


This packaging system was created for locally handmade personal care products. The project consists of a collection of five different packages, each of them with three layers. The internal layer is the personal care product – such as face cream, deodorant, facial clay, etc. The second layer is made of solid natural soap and serves as a container for the previous layer. And the external layer is made out of bacterial cellulose, which was developed through experimental processes of biofabrication with residual SCOBYs from kombucha producers; it protects the soap and contains the information of the product. “The packaging system reproduces the structure of a fruit, juice – pulp – peel.”

Silver award

“Coolpaste,” by Allan Gomes, Brazil


Coolpaste was created with the aim of developing a sustainable packaging design for toothpaste – in a way that did not affect durability. Coolpaste uses impermeable cardboard, and the cap of the tube is also biodegradable, made from Polylactide (PLA), a bioplastic derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch, tapioca roots, starch, or sugarcane.

Bronze award

“Waxy,” by Mohamed Hassan Mahamad, Mohamed Abdirashid Farah, Shamso Hussein & Ecosoc, Somalia


This team created a chemical-free and energy-conserving plastic extrusion technology called “Waxy II Technology” in order to recycle and transform waste plastics, packaging materials and agricultural waste into durable and environmentally friendly roof tiles, interlocking bricks, paving stones and plastic lumbers. The finished products are durable, cost effective, aesthetically pleasing, insect resistant and easy to work with.

Most Innovative Approach Winners

Gold award

“The Item Bag 2.0: Packaging That Dissolves!” by Jack Cleary & the Wastebased Team, United Kingdom


The Item Bag 2.0 is a biodegradable, non-toxic, carbon-negative storage bag made from a polymer similar to the material used to coat dishwasher/laundry tablets, and it dissolves in boiling water. This project sought to tackle the problem of poly bags in the fashion industry, which are normally made from polyethylene or polypropylene. “Almost every piece of clothing goes in a poly bag at some point, and often items will move from poly bag to poly bag as they make their way to the consumer, resulting in a lot of invisible plastic consumption.” The team behind the Item Bag 2.0 notes that, “We offset 200% of the carbon footprint of each bag, so each one is drawing CO2 out of our atmosphere instead of adding to it.”

Silver award

“The Shellworks,” by Insiya Jafferjee, Amir Afshar Edward Jones, United Kingdom


The Shellworks creates packaging for the cosmetic, beauty, fashion, and retail industries from food waste. Its first products are bottle caps, jars and pots, and secondary packaging (trays, boxes). Ninety percent of its products are made from waste sources such as shellfish waste, food waste or waste fibers. And, to measure their impact, the team has four key metrics: “measure how much plastic we are replacing; measure how much waste we are repurposing; quantifying how much faster our degradation is to other plastics; and documenting our Life Cycle Analysis to ensure we make sustainable decisions across our supply chain.”

Bronze award

“PLANT plASTIC!” by Cinzia Ferrari, United Kingdom


This packaging material doesn’t contain any toxic ingredients and doesn’t become waste. Instead, at the end of its use, it takes a new life form by growing into a plant. “Packaging is not a passive dead matter anymore. It is alive and contributes to a better environment: By growing into a plant, CO2 is absorbed from the air and single-use packaging consumption is reduced as the user will grow fresh products as tomatoes that are normally sold wrapped in plastic.” The material is made of sodium alginate, plant seeds and Azospirillum Brasilense, which is a soil bacterium harmless to humans. The packaging is dry and organically inactive, becoming active again only when it is planted into soil.

Innovation is nothing new in the packaging world, but these creative plastic alternatives and campaigns deserve another round of applause.